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Elizabeth Edwards
Talks Tough

It's becoming as regular a routine as paying the rent or mortgage: every few weeks, Elizabeth Edwards levels a sharp-edged critique of the campaign of her husband's rivals, most of all Hillary Clinton. The latest version arrived this week in an interview with TIME magazine, in which Mrs. Edwards argued that Clinton's unpopularity in many quarters of the country would help fire up Republicans in a general election if she were the Democratic nominee.

"I want to be perfectly clear: I do not think the hatred against Hillary Clinton is justified," Elizabeth Edwards said. "I don't know where it comes from. I don't begin to understand it. But you can't pretend it doesn't exist, and it will energize the Republican base. Their nominee won't energize them, Bush won't, but Hillary as the nominee will. It's hard for John to talk about, but it's the reality."

In her comments, Mrs. Edwards was broaching an issue that is widely discussed among many Democrats but one that Clinton's rivals have so far not found a way to raise explicitly -- would her high negative ratings make it hard for her to win in November 2008, even at a time when the Democrats appear ascendant? The closest any of Clinton's rivals have come to making this case directly so far was Barack Obama's remark, in an interview with The Washington Post earlier this month, that Clinton's polarizing reputation would make it hard for her to unify the country and that he believed he "can bring the country together in a way she cannot do." But Obama, unlike Mrs. Edwards, stopped short of actually warning about Clinton's electability.

Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer rejected Edwards' assertion, telling the Associated Press that polls show Clinton leading many Republican candidates in head-to-head matchups, despite her high negative ratings.

It is only the latest jab delivered by Mrs. Edwards to argue her husband's case against his rivals. This month, she accused Barack Obama of being "holier than thou" in his touting of his early opposition to the Iraq war, and suggested that Edwards was getting less attention than Obama and Clinton because he was not African-American or female. Most of her barbs have been aimed at Clinton: she has questioned her commitment to women's issues, criticized her for lacking the "political will" to achieve health care reform, and suggested last year that her own career choices had made her happier than Clinton, for which she later apologized.

--Alec MacGillis

By Washington Post editors  |  August 31, 2007; 6:10 PM ET
 
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